By Mary Kate McGrath - September 14, 2020
For colleges and universities bringing students back to campus for the Fall of 2020, technology is playing an important role in keeping students, faculty, and staff safe from COVID-19. Many schools are encouraging community members to screen themselves daily for coronavirus symptoms using a self-screening app, which requires users to sign onto the app and answer several questions to determine potential symptoms or exposure to the virus. A self-screening app varies slightly from a campus safety app, which can be used to communicate vital COVID-19 information and conduct routine wellness checks.
In May, colleges and universities outlined plans to bring a limited number of individuals back to campus, putting in a regimen of testing and contact tracing, strict quarantine and isolation procedures, and plans to require students to continue to practice proper hygiene, wear masks, and self-quarantine or socially distance while on campus.
Campus safety leaders have looked for innovative strategies to ensure accountability among members of the community, and self-screening processes allow administrators to better understand the health status of the student population. It also provides a gut-check for students who might be considering going to classes with symptoms.
Meanwhile, a campus safety app helps college leaders improve their response posture, sharing updates about the institution as the coronavirus pandemic continues to unfold. Administrators can use the tool to distribute a variety of communications, including health tips,social-distancing expectations, emergency procedures or protocols, and any other preparedness instructions via email, text message, voice call, or digital signage.
The campus safety app can also be a compliment to a self-screening app, as the tool can help facilitate wellness check-ins for students reporting symptoms, providing them with the proper guidelines for a self-quarantine, directing them to a quarantine facility if necessary, and connecting them with any much-needed resources, such as medicine or food from the dining facilities.
Technology will continue to play a role in campus safety as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, but if administrators choose the right tools, apps can continue to provide value after the virus wanes.
Many colleges and universities have seen an immediate benefit to implementing a self-screener app, allowing public health experts to quickly identify cases on campus and connect the individual with medical treatment. Encouraging students to self-screen will raise awareness for virus risks and encourage students to be socially responsible. In addition, community members can use the clearance from the app as a “fast pass” to access buildings or classrooms, reducing the risk of virus transfer in buildings.
The app, which prompts students to describe their health condition each day via a brief survey, is slightly different than a contact tracing app, which would alert individuals who’ve come into close contact with someone who tested positive using GPS and Bluetooth tracking. But it’s not clear the self-screen apps will continue to provide value after the COVID-19 pandemic, nor does this specific screening tool address other coronavirus-specific needs on campus.
While self-screening apps are relatively straightforward, campus safety apps have multiple use cases to support students, faculty, and staff throughout this uncertain time.
A campus safety app’s wellness check feature is a vital tool for universities - and not just for COVID-19 screening. In September, many college students reported feeling abandoned in quarantine after testing positive or being exposed to the coronavirus, as per the New York Times. Most public and private universities bringing students back to campus are practicing de-densification, meaning it’s possible to set aside designated dormitories or off-campus apartments to act as a quarantine facility.
Public health officials support this strategy as it’s safer to separate students until they are no longer contagious in comparison to sending them home to families, which could potentially spread the virus to other communities. However, many students have reported quarantine rooms to have filthy conditions, insufficient food rations, chaotic procedures, and no check-ins from campus officials or medical professionals.
While it’s important to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 on campus, officials must go beyond concerns of students spreading the virus and ensure that those who do contract the illness on school grounds receive medical treatment, food and housing, and mental health support. A wellness check-in through a campus safety app with polling capabilities will help administrators better understand what students in quarantine need - whether it is additional medicine, food, or a textbook - and find a social-distancing compliant way to ensure these items get to then quarantined individual.
Watch the below video for tips on how your institution can reach and support student mental health both on and off campus:
This coronavirus safety solution also allows for emergency outreach, including case updates on campus, any travel bans or restrictions, or any other immediate concerns. In addition to the continuous updates, administrators can continue to remind anyone on campus of available resources, preventing ongoing confusion. This will also empower all community members to proactively connect with COVID-19 resources, such as on-campus testing sites, as necessary.
One additional benefit to a campus safety app is the ability to mitigate privacy concerns. Contact tracing apps - which often rely on bluetooth tracking or QR codes - have major privacy trade-offs regarding how information can be stored, shared, and communicated, as per the New York Times. In contrast, a campus safety app allows students to volunteer information, and guarantees student data will not be leveraged for any reason other than to manage immediate safety.
This level of student engagement will continue to provide value after the COVID-19 pandemic is over, as well - a polling feature allows administrators to connect with students over public health concerns, but also to field their input on future emergency matters.
While a self-screening app will boost student engagement in the short-term - encouraging students to evaluate their COVID-19 risk and consider the implications on the greater community - it may be worth considering how an app with polling capabilities could benefit administrators long term. There are a variety of safety issues administrators can engage students on via a campus safety app long after the COVID-19 pandemic is no longer a top priority.
Mary Kate is a content specialist and social media manager for the Rave Mobile Safety team. She writes about public safety for the state & local and education spheres.
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